There’s no shortage of news stories covering famous people who hated each other in pop culture’s recent years. Singers, models, and actors seem to have a way of creating drama with one another both on and off the stage just as easily as they breathe. But what about historical figures who hated each other?
Believe it or not, history is full of people who straight up couldn’t stand the sight of one another. Famous enemies in history have included presidents, scientists, painters, inventors, military leaders, and authors. No profession has ever been too "proper" for a good, old-fashioned rivalry at one time on another. This list contains some of the most popular historical figures who were enemies and the ridiculous ways they tried to humiliate one another.
You would think these two geniuses would be the best of friends and collaborators. Nope. They tried working together, but the ego can be an ugly and irrational thing, even for the two greatest minds of the 20th century. Simply put, they hated each other.
Edison insisted direct current (DC) was they way to power the new Electrical Age, but Tesla felt alternating current (AC) should be the standard for all electronics. Edison insisted AC wasn't safe; Tesla felt that DC wasn't scalable enough to be used nationwide.
Edison considered Tesla’s ideas “splendid” but “utterly impractical.” Tesla considered Edison’s methods tedious because he relied heavily on experimentation. In contrast, Tesla worked out his theories on paper before diving into implementation. They both publicly criticized the other every chance they got. Tesla once said of Edison’s methods,
If he had a needle to find in a haystack he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, but would proceed at once, with the feverish diligence of a bee, to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.... I was almost a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.
At one point, Tesla allegedly got Edison to agree to give him $50,000 if he could improve on one of Edison's prototypes. Tesla slaved over his improvements, but when he came to Edison for his $50,000 rewards, Edison claimed his earlier promise had only been a joke.
After Edison’s death, Tesla offered some additional thoughts to the New York Times, stating Edison “had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene.”
That’s way harsh, Tes.
According to their fellow artist Giorgio Vasari, who wrote contemporary Renaissance biographies of the painters, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were far from friendly, though Vasari never explains why in his text.
However, there is one anonymous story that sheds some light on their contentious relationship. Apparently, da Vinci was walking down the street with a friend when he passed a group of men discussing a passage from Dante. They called him over to ask for his opinion. Just at that time, Michelangelo also passed the group. Da Vinci called out to him, saying, "Michelangelo will be able to tell you what it means."
For reasons that aren't entirely clear, Michelangelo took great offense at this. He responded venomously to da Vinci, “No, explain it yourself, horse-modeler that you are, who, unable to cast a statue in bronze, were forced to give up the attempt in shame.”
Allegedly, da Vinci didn't say a word back; he just stood there blushing, poor guy. Who knew being called a horse-modeler could sting so bad?
As far as the failed bronze statue comment, both men were known for abandoning projects and moving on to the next so this was a bit of a pot and kettle situation. There's no solid explanation for how these two talented men got on each other's bad side in the first place. Many art historians chalk it up to jealously and competitiveness.
Founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr became legendary rivals while serving George Washington during the Revolutionary War. In 1791, when Burr replaced Hamilton’s father-in-law in the New York Senate, Hamilton described Burr as “unprincipled both as a public and private man.” Both men fiercely campaigned against each other and in 1800, Burr got his hands on a pamphlet Hamilton wrote in secrecy, criticizing President John Adams. Burr helped publish it, humiliating Hamilton in the process. As a result, Hamilton decided to oppose Burr in the presidential race that same year.
When Hamilton actively fought against Burr’s bid for New York governor, ensuring Morgan Lewis got the job, Burr was infuriated. He demanded an apology, and, when Hamilton refused, he challenged him to a duel. Hamilton accepted the challenge, and on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey, the two rivals met.
Some say Hamilton purposely shot up in the air, missing Burr and hitting a tree branch over Burr’s head. Either way, he missed his opponent, who took his chance and fired off a round into Hamilton's stomach. The bullet lodged itself in his spine, and Hamilton was taken back to New York, where he died the following day.
It should come as no shock that the master of the macabre had a rival. Poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold had the pleasure of being at odds with Poe. At one point, the two men worked together; Griswold published one of Poe’s pieces in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America. That didn’t stop Poe from publicly disparaging Griswold’s intellect and integrity. Poe even went so far as to blast the selections Griswold made for the anthology in an essay.
Poe’s ego most likely suffered a bruising when Griswold took over as editor of Graham’s Magazine and started pulling in a higher salary than Poe. That wasn’t satisfaction enough for Griswold; neither was the fact that he outlived Poe. Griswold decided to write a nasty obituary, claiming Poe’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” Some even suspect Griswold might have been involved in the author's mysterious death.
Griwold took things even further, like the obsessed lunatic he was, and somehow convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to name him Poe’s literary executor. Once he succeeded, Griswold published a biography riddled with lies, making Poe out to be an alcoholic, a drug addict, and a raving madman. (In fact, later scholarship has proven that Poe was neither a drug user nor a heavy drinker.) Not that this did much to dissuade people from devouring and admiring Poe’s writings. In fact, Griswold’s petty attempt at tarnishing the deceased writer's legacy didn’t push him into obscurity, it only added to Poe’s mystery and intrigue.